Naomi Cowan is here to put on for her hometown of Kingston, Jamaica, the best way she knows how. First releasing music in 2016, the recording artist creates Carribean-inspired R&B music to uplift and motivate the masses all around the world to sing and dance like no one’s watching.
First and foremost, Naomi is a storyteller, with a mission to tell stories whether it’s based on her own experiences, or stories she’s witnessed in the lives of others. She states, “Music just so happens to be the channel or the path I’m choosing right now, but what I'm most passionate about is sharing stories—whether it's a result of personal growth, observation, or even a form of expression.”
Now, Naomi is excited as ever to be unleashing her highly-anticipated full-length debut project titled StarGirl Mixtape, collaborating with Walshy Fire of Major Lazer who executive produced the tape. The 33-track project introduces fans to this alternate galaxy where music, and only music, resides, reminding you of the beauty of the art and the healing power that comes with it.
Flaunt caught up with Naomi via Zoom, who was located overseas in Kingston, Jamaica. Read below as we discuss her storytelling, roots in Jamaica, biggest influences, the turning point in her music career, the meaning behind “Lucky Me,” what a StarGirl is, how she linked with Walshy Fire, and more! Get a sneak peak of all of that and more in the exclusive video and interview below.
Why is storytelling so important for you?
Storytelling is super important, because it's what connects generations together. Everything we know historically, or what we know to be history in general, is a result of one person passing on a message to another through a medium of that time. For sure more than anything, I'm a storyteller. I infuse it in everything I do, whether it's what I'm wearing or what my hair and nails look like, or my videos or my songs. I aim to use all of my gifts as a way to tell stories.
What was it like growing up in Jamaica?
I grew up in New Kingston, which is one of the main commercial areas in the city, but the neighborhood I grew up in had a lot of trees and a lot of outdoor space. I was always outside, and barely wore shoes truthfully. [laughs] Unless it was to go to school, or anywhere that you have to wear shoes. But as soon as I came home, my shoes came off. I was right outside, running track and field with my friends. I’d climb different trees; We'd pick the fruit, sit up there, eat the fruit...just vibe. I'm really grateful I had an upbringing where I had this “city life,” but also a bit of the country life because of the way our neighborhood was set up.
I’m the youngest of seven, and both my parents were in the Jamaican music industry, so I grew up in the recording studio. I grew up backstage. I was on the road a lot, sleeping on tour buses. Our lives were very dynamic (and loud). I grew up watching a lot of performances. In turn, I spent a lot of my childhood expressing that.What stands out to me the most about my childhood was being able to find small pockets of quiet time and using it to create, whether it was scripting a show or writing my own songs and performing them to myself.
Biggest influences coming up?
Different people have influenced me in different ways, but there are certain musical voices that inspired me straight off the bat, and it's because I felt connected to them. Representation matters, not just in race but in things like mannerisms and body types. I'll never forget the first time I heard Alicia Keys sing. I finally found a singer I could aspire to be like, because we had so much in common. She plays the piano, She also has this raspy tone, something I used to be insecure about as a kid. It was dope to find a singer that I felt connected to in that way.
When I discovered Aaliyah and her music, she had this girly tomboy thing going on. I was super skinny growing up. People thought I didn’t eat enough, and I definitely got teased for being flat-chested. What I loved about Aaliyah is that even though she had a small frame, she was still so beautiful and attractive. I loved how she owned her body. She inspired me to embrace my body & highlight the best parts of it. No matter what body type you have, every young girl is going to feel insecure and go through some insecurities. Women who have bigger breasts, they're going to tell you that when they were in high school, they felt hyper-sexualized because they had big breasts….and vice versa.
Corinne Bailey Rae is one of the first artists that inspired me to teach myself how to play the guitar. There's a Canadian artist—Justin Nozuka. His music is very indie pop, and that's the genre I started writing in. I started writing to guitar more than I did to beats or instrumentals. Even now, sometimes a producer will send me a beat and I’ll ask them for the chords. I'll go back and play the chords of the beat so I can get in touch with it before I write something.
From Dennis Brown to Marcia Griffiths who are Jamaican legends, they've influenced me on multiple levels I can't even begin to describe. Garnett Silk is a huge influence of mine, Pharrell! Love his creativity, his ear and how he's never been afraid to push the envelope, someone I’d love to work with. His productions are filled with easter eggs, the small things that the average ear wouldn’t hear. Whether it’s an ad lib or a tiny inflection, those things make a big difference. He's super experimental, it's served him very, very well.
Anyone that owns their space is a big inspiration of mine.
At what point did you realize you could do music for a living? Was there a turning point?
Yes, I had just graduated college around 2016. I’d gotten a job straight out of college, which was dope. It was a full-time job with insurance and benefits, all the good stuff. I was living in Toronto at the time. I started out with a salary that was pretty decent. A couple of months later, the founders of the company came to me, and I got demoted. Not because they didn't believe in me or what I could do, but they realized they didn't have the budget for the position they initially hired me for. They said “Hey we'd love to keep you on the team, but if anything, we’d have you as an executive assistant.”
It was almost $20,000 less than what I was initially offered. At the same time, my dad was having major surgery. I was moving to a new apartment. All these things were happening at the same time. Just the fragility, those experiences showed me a physical representation of how fragile everything is and the fact that nothing’s guaranteed in this world. At that point in time, I said what the hell are you doing? Why are you investing this amount of time, hours, and energy into something that could be pulled from under your feet so quickly? Why not risk all of it to be able to do for yourself something you genuinely love to do? With something that makes you happy every time you do it? With something that gives back more than you give into it? This was all in a 2-month period.
I had to stop running because I was running away from music for a long time. I was running away from pursuing it, just fear. I’m a multipotentialite. I have multiple gifts, so many different career paths I could’ve taken. Music was the most terrifying one, so I kept pursuing other things to fill the gap. Eventually I said, “If I don't do it now, when am I going to do it?” Clearly, the dream and the desire were still so heavy on my heart that I realized if I kept ignoring it, I was going to make myself very unhappy. Very sick. We know that suppression and burying things deep down never helps people in the long-term when it comes to their health. I made the decision that I needed to do it and try it for myself 1000%, with no looking back and not overthinking. Waking up every day and doing it, building it little by little. So I packed everything, gave up my beautiful apartment and moved back home.
You recently released “Lucky Me,” who or what inspired this record?
“Lucky Me” is the second single off my project, inspired by one of my mentors. She is currently going through a divorce, which sucks and it’s so hard to see someone you look up to go through something that can really pull them down. There was a 1 or 2 week period where I was thinking about her several times a day. I was feeling a lot of her emotions imagining what she was going through. So I wrote ‘Lucky Me’.
The song’s about the irony that comes with the separation of people: when you move away from something or someone, or a job, eventually you look at it in a positive light and say, “oh, I’m lucky I learned about this. I’m lucky that I was able to move on.” For me, it's a bit ironic realizing that with every loss, there comes gains. If you see it that way, then you're the lucky one. Really want to shout you Runkus for being on this track with me, and Wixard who produced the track—she’s a gem.
What’re you most excited about with StarGirl out now? What is the definition of a StarGirl?
StarGirl is more of an energy, when you've tapped into that undeniable energy inside of you that nobody can steal from you. We all have bad days where some crap happens. You might get into a car accident, whatever. Life happens. A StarGirl is immovable in her assurance of who she is. For me, the StarGirl is the person that I try to remind myself to be in the moments that make me feel I want to give up. I describe it as this invincible force inside of me that I have to tap into when things feel hopeless, confusing, or draining.
In Jamaica, we love to call each other “star.” Star is a word we use to greet one another. We’ll say “wha gwan star?” It's a way of empowering each other, because let’s face it; every Jamaican is a superstar. The word “star” in our culture represents the essence of the Jamaican swag, We're very bold in how we feel about ourselves. You can always spot a Jamaican anywhere you go. It's that attitude, that undeniable confidence that’s unshakable and not movable, despite what might be happening around you.
How was it working with Walshy from Major Lazer? I’ve interviewed him, he's so dope.
Walshy has challenged me in ways I really needed to be challenged. On the mixtape, he said “Yo, I want you to rap over Busta Rhymes’ ‘Gimme Some More’ instrumental.” I said “What?!” He said “yeah, write something super arrogant..” I’ve been tapping into character work a lot more this past year. It's very fun, he's very fun to work with, which is also why we’ve been filming satirical skits to promote the project, cuz that’s what we do all the time in the studio. We just be acting out.
That's been the best part, I've felt very free. When we take ourselves super seriously to try and get people to take us seriously, we don't show a lot of who we are. He's encouraged me to express the unseen layers of my personality. That's been really awesome.
How did you guys meet initially?
We met late 2019 at Kingston Elite Studios, where we ended up writing a song within the hour, that’s also when I met Wixard—the producer of “Lucky Me.” However, the work really started as a result of when the borders shut down here and everywhere because of COVID. We started to go to the studio and created a lot in a short time until eventually. I said “we have all this music,What are we doing?” He said, “Honestly, I’ve really wanted to work with an artist singularly—with a focus, with a plan, with a creative journey.” He said “I think you offer so much. You have the potential to represent Jamaica on a bigger stage.”
I hope and would love for my music and my career to have a similar impact to Sean Paul. I love Sean Paul and his journey as an artist, he has become an identifiable voice for Jamaica. At the same time, his audience is very wide. He will sell out 60K to 100K people at a show in Colombia, Croatia, or Canada. What's dope is that he's managed to find a sweet spot for himself where he can represent our country, yet he's not a token artist. Sean Paul has his own movement, he has his own influence and his own audience. The people that are dedicated to his music are really dedicated. The goal for me is to find my tribe and grow with them. It's more about finding people who genuinely love what you do and why you do it.
What’re you most excited for as the world opens back up?
I’m excited to finally share the StarGirl Mixtape and at the same time, I'm gassed for the subsequent projects. “StarGirl” is just the beginning of the creative and musical journey that Walshy and I are on, so we have follow-up projects that are already planned, recorded. All of them will tie into this initial “StarGirl” concept, so it's actually going to be about a year and a half of the music existing in one universe. I'm just excited for that. It’s going to be fun.